If you’re interested in completing all or just sections of the South West Coast Path, below you’ll find:
Useful facts and figures
Some of the many notable places along the way
And the wildlife
At 630 miles (1013 km), the South West Coast Path is the longest marked footpath and National Trail in the UK – soon to be overtaken by the England Coast Path which is due for completion imminently. The South West Coast path, as the name suggests, covers the whole of the south west coast of the UK from it’s starting point in Minehead, Somerset (Grid reference SS 97069 47077) to Poole in Dorset (Grid reference SZ 03631 86660).
The path takes you through four of the most popular English counties; Somerset, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset and because of that, you come across an abundance of interesting, beautiful and historical sites and it’s very well maintained, helped by the fact that over 70% of the route runs through National Parks, Areas of Natural Beauty, 2 World Heritage Sites, a UNESCO Biosphere and a UNESCO Geopark.
Some pretty impressive facts and figures here for you:
With 115,000 feet of ascent and descent, walking the full length of the South West Coast Path is equivalent to scaling the world’s tallest mountain four times!
Along the route you will cross 230 bridges, catch 13 ferries, go through 880 gates, climb over 436 stiles, pass more than 4,000 Coast Path signs and go up or down over 30,000 steps.
Approximately 9 million people visit the Path each year.
The South West Coast path was originally created by the Coastguard on the lookout for smugglers who were rife in the 13th century and the Coastguard continued to patrol the route until the early 1900’s, because of this the path still runs very close to or through many of the coves and caves along the way, providing spectacular views of some of the UK’s otherwise hidden coastal gems. Evidence of the route being used goes back much further than that, however. Through the discovery of various fossils it is understood that our ancestors could have walked and hunted on sections of the route as far back as the end of the last Ice Age – approximately 11,700 years ago. I assume they probably didn’t have the same sign posts and markers to follow though.
On average it takes approximately eight weeks to walk the path. Most people divide it into sections and complete it over several years, however you do of course find that some people will complete the whole trail in one go. Various records have been set over the years for quickest completion time, in 2016 the outdoor journalist and GB ultra runner Damian Hall set the new fastest known time of 10 days, 15 hours and 18 minutes. Now that’s pretty impressive!
Many people wild camp along the route, and there are plenty of hidden places you could easily get away with that, but do remember that wildcamping is not permitted in England and you might be moved along if you’re not careful, also if you do wildcamp please also remember to leave no trace and try not to ruin the beauty for everybody else.
If wildcamping isn’t your thing though and you still want to give the path a go, then there is a plethora of campsites, B&Bs and hotels with the path running right by them or not too far away to make a slight detour.
So what will you see along the way? Other than 630 miles of some of the most spectacular coastal scenery, the path takes your through a number of iconic places such as:
Exmoor National Park, Somerset & Devon
Port Isaac, Cornwall (As featured in ITV’s Doc Martin)
Lands’s End , Cornwall (UK’s most westerly point)
Lizard Point, Cornwall (UK’s most southerly point)
Chesil Beach, Dorset
Portland Bill, Dorset
Durdle Door, Dorset
There is also an abundance of wildlife you could see, such as:
Swifts and Peregine Falcons ( Two of the world’s fastest birds)
Wild goats and ponies
Rabbits and hares
You might also find us along there too! We have recently decided to make it our goal to complete the full 630 miles, breaking it into various 50-100 mile stretches. You can find my reports of where we’ve been, what we’ve done and what we’ve seen on the site once we’ve done them.
As well as the route appearing on various OS Maps, there are a great selection of guidebooks by Cicerone which focus mainly on the route allowing you to easily follow the path without getting tied up in your map.
You can find your OS Maps here and your Cicerone guidebooks here
If you want to find some more information about the South West Coast Path, have a look at the official website over here
Like so many of her articles in her wide catalogue of work, ‘A Dawn Chorus’ is so poetically written and expresses Charlotte’s experience and emotions beautifully.
It commands your attention throughout, so read on to find out what Charlotte experienced when she got up at the break of day to embrace the beautiful dawn chorus.
There aren’t many reasons I’d set a 04:30am alarm. Even the promise of the dawn chorus felt like it was going to be a stretch. But as that shrill wailing jerked me awake, I found myself stumbling straight out of bed and into the clothes I’d laid out the night before. A final stock-take before leaving the house – phone, keys, scarf, binoculars – and I was out the door and off into the night.
The dawn chorus has long captivated us humans. It is exhilarating, pure magic entwined with the promise of freedom and escape. It is a reminder of an older time, long before I was born, when life was slower and quieter. For the birds, however, the dawn chorus is about just two things: sex and power.
The first thing that hits you is the sheer volume of each bird, their regular daytime tootling paling in comparison. As I walked up the street and the early morning chill nibbled my cheeks two beautiful songs completely wrapped me up: the blackbird and the robin.
Until that moment I hadn’t realised just how much strength each member of the dawn chorus held in its little lungs. Each species sings desperately to be heard above the noise of other birds and prove its worth to potential mates, as well as local rivals who may be thinking about swooping in to steal territory or females.
I smiled to myself as the blackbirds and robins – always the birds to start the chorus – sung me towards the patch of woodland where I’d decided to listen to the main event. The blackbird is a romantic, its notes all syrupy ripples, while the robin is a dreamer, its tinkling silvery and wistful.
I paused on the woodland edge as another singer joined the choir, insistently vying for attention with each staccato phrase repeated three or four times: “Hello! Hello! It’s me! I’m here! I’m here! I’m here!” Once you learn to recognise it there is no mistaking this distinctive song thrush ditty.
Next, a machine-gun-burst cut through the dark, followed by another – two warring wrens duelling for territory from opposite sides of the wood. I’m always astounded by the power in the tiny wren’s voice. In fact, it’s thought that our second-smallest bird actually vibrates with the power of its own song.
I looked at my watch. It was just past 5am; the choir would soon start building to its crescendo. A little wooden bench where I often stop to sit with my cocker spaniel, Ruby, on our short potters (my golden girl is getting old) was the perfect spot to pause and listen to the ever more powerful avian soundtrack ringing out around me.
As I took my seat I was welcomed by a chiffchaff practising its first hesitant notes of the day: “Chiff, chiff, chiff.” I stared into the depths of a gloomy bush, hoping to see a flicker of movement, when a fluttering something-else caught my eye, up the corridor of trees and then back again. A butterfly? This early in the morning? No, a bat!
As soon as the realisation hit three more staged a high-speed fly-past, then another, then another; some whizzing straight by my seat on their commute while others raced laps after the night’s last insects before continuing to their roost. I smiled and counted, “One bat… two bats…” a la Count Von Count, and by the time the eighth tiny bat had flown past, the chiffchaff had found its voice and proudly proclaimed, “Chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff” to my eager ears.
The sky glew gas blue; pale fire lit by the steadily rising sun. I checked my watch again: 5:35am, time for a slow walk home as the final birds added their melodies to the dawn chorus.
Crows croaked and wood pigeons complained about how much “my toe hurts, Betty.”* A great tit see-sawed overhead like a squeaky wheelbarrow. The house sparrows came last, chirping away from the tops of garden hedges under a morning sun muffled by clouds. There was no-one else around, my heart was full, and my eyes weren’t even stinging with sleep.
That day, I was more productive at work than I’d been for some time. I felt really, genuinely happy. I walked to my polling station in the humid evening to vote in the local election, and as the fat clouds burst I turned my face to the sky and embraced the cooling raindrops. I’m positive that it was the dawn chorus effect. Birdsong is a balm for the soul.
All credit to BBC 6 Music’s Radcliffe and Maconie for coining this wonderful wood pigeon whinge.
If you have a moment, please check out the amazing work that Lancashire Wildlife Trust do in order to ‘give wildlife a voice, protect wild spaces and enthuse the next generation with nature across Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.’
Leave a comment below and let us know if this is something you’ve done and how it’s affected you and if you had the same experience as Charlotte!
Alternatively get in touch using the form below to enquire about submitting something to the intothesticks community!
I have always loved the look of canoeing down a beautiful, still and silent river and for years have wanted to give it a go. I’ve canoed before and I’ve done a little kayaking but they’ve always been day trips and I was after the adventure of hauling all of my kit in the canoe and travelling for a couple of days, living out of the canoe on the riverside.
Almost every year when we planned our trips into Sweden, I would suggest hiring some canoes and exploring the vast lakes and river systems taking advantage of their freedom to roam laws to camp on the riverside every night. Sadly the idea never materialised and my longing for that canoe trip just grew every year.
I’ve spent a lot of time walking and exploring in the Wye Valley and eventually got to know the area very well. There was a small beach on the river bank in Symonds Yat where I used to sit with my dog and watch in glee as the canoeists would glide past and I later found out that that beach was actually the landing spot for Canoe The Wye (a brilliant canoe hire company).
After months of researching some great canoe trips in the UK, I looked at trips running in one of my favourite places, Wye Valley and discovered Canoe The Wye. They have a brilliant selection of self guided trips ranging from a half day to 4 days. I opted for and booked the 3 day trip. 3 days canoeing and 2 nights camping.
Surprisingly, it didn’t take much persuasion at all to get Sarah on board (no pun intended) to take part in the 3 day canoe trip on the River Wye – to be fair it took a lot of research and planning on my side beforehand so it was a fairly easy sell!
Time passed, we booked our campsites and got ready for our trip.
Day 1 (Thursday): Hereford to Hoarwithy – and chatty man Nick
It should have been a fairly short drive, just a couple of hours, from home to Canoe the Wye’s base in Symonds Yat. A drive I have completed many times with no issues whatsoever, however this time it took considerably longer due to a minor accidental detour on the motorway which took us a good half hour in the opposite direction…We called ahead and told them to expect us slightly later than planned. This wasn’t an issue though as we found out we were the only people doing the multi day trip and they were only waiting for us to arrive to get started anyway. Keeping to the speed limit (ish…) I managed to get us there a little earlier than we thought, but still quite late…
We met Nick from Canoe The Wye who would be kitting us up, providing us with our canoe and briefing us on what to expect on the river each day. We packed all of our kit into the waterproof barrels (well…most of it, we had so much stuff it looked like we might have been on the 7 day trip…) and climbed into Nicks pick-up.
On the 3 day trip, you get dropped off at Hereford and over the next couple of days you make your way back down river (about 70km) to Symonds Yat.
Nick was a very pleasant man, very chatty and clearly had a lot of knowledge about the local area. We pretty much had a free guided tour all the way to Hereford! We arrived at the launching site at Hereford Rowing Club and hauled the canoe and kit off the pick-up and went through the briefing on the grass next to the river. Nick showed us various methods of controlling the canoe and how to guide it through different sections of water. I already had some knowledge of how to do this and Sarah and I had canoed together in Algonquin Park in Canada, so we knew how to work together and who was better at the back and front of the canoe. We were ready to go!
Canoe taken to the water – kit packed in canoe – we climbed in and set off – Nick drove away…
It had been a couple of years since we were in a canoe together, so it took a little moment to get back in the rhythm of it and keep in a straight line, but within 10 minutes we were away and canoeing like the pros.
Once you go under the last bridge away from Hereford the whole area is plunged into peace and quiet. With the sound of nothing but the paddles gliding pushing us through the water, we officially began our adventure. It dawned on us fairly quick that we actually had no other way to get to where we wanted to go, we had to rely on our skills and trusty canoe to get us there, and that was really exciting. We were provided with a fairly basic map of the river for each day’s stretch. The river was split into sections eventually counting down to 1 which we would reach three days later in Symonds Yat. It was easy enough to follow and it pointed out various points of interests along the way. So we navigated ourselves along the river by counting down how many bridges we had gone under and how many we had left to do before we reached our end point for the day. Day 1 would finish at a lovely riverside campsite on the edge of Hoarwithy village.
The water was really smooth which made paddling easy, however in numerous sections on day 1 the river was exposed to a strong headwind. The current was slow moving, so we had to put in some extra effort to keep moving through the wind, back into the sheltered sections of the river. Other than that though, day 1 was beautiful. We didn’t see a single person along the whole stretch of water, the weather was amazing and just short of five and a half hours later we arrived at Tresseck Campsite in Hoarwithy.
Upon climbing the steep bank up to the campsite and hauling the canoe up behind us (not fun), we discovered we were the only people on the site which was perfect. We pitched up on a spot next the river and ventured into a pub, which was also a shop, just across the field to get some firewood for a campfire (campfires are permitted at the site, we weren’t being hooligans). We very quickly discovered that it was more of a ‘locals’ pub and the landlady was less than welcoming, obviously realising that we weren’t their fellow village folk or even from the same county. We downed a very well earned drink, bought some supplies and ran away back to the safety of our campsite. We were soon joined by a small family who had also canoed down from Hereford and pitched next to us.
We lit our campfire, had some dinner, drank a whole bottle of Prosecco, napped next to the fire and with that, day 1 was complete.
Day 2 (Friday): Hoarwithy to Ross on Wye – and Wildlife
Day 2 was a slightly shorter stretch but very picturesque and full of wildlife. We woke up early and made breakfast as our neighbours packed up their camp and prepared to leave. They were following the same route as us and would be staying in Ross on Wye that night too. We finished breakfast, packed everything away, launched the canoe into the water and we were off.
Straight away we were surrounded by wildlife. As we paddled down the river we were watching families of ducks and swans rushing about with their babies. Along the route we passed salmon pools and caught glimpses of the salmon rushing upstream below us. Above our heads we had kingfishers flashing through the trees and even spotted a hobby hawk. Alongside us, on the banks, were slides created by otters coming in and out of the river. It was nice to think we wouldn’t have spotted any of this if we weren’t on the river. As soon as you get on the water, the perspective of the whole area changes in an instant.
The route was broken up by old disused bridges which were actually quite eerie and daunting as we glided below them in silence. We had some rain overnight which had caused the water levels to rise slightly and the current was faster, this made for some pretty exciting canoeing as we negotiated our way through small rapids and dodged large boulders that were only just surfacing above the water. It was in these little rapids where we spotted small groups of salmon. As soon as we hit calm water again, the serenity returned and we were once again surrounded by absolute peace and quiet. I wish I could explain in more detail how beautiful the experience was and how amazing it was to just lay the paddle down inside the canoe and let the current slowly take us peacefully downstream.
We nearly went the whole route without seeing anybody else on the water. After a couple of hours we overtook the only other group of people in canoes we had seen for the last 24 hours. We had seen (and probably disrupted) a few people fly fishing in the river, but that was it. We felt like we were miles away from anywhere and we easily could have been.
We eventually spotted Ross on Wye in the distance. Most of the small town is set at the top of the valley and gradually comes down to the river where Ross on Wye Rowing Club was, and that would be our end point for the day. We booked to camp in one of the fields behind the rowing club which backed onto a small recreational green overlooking the river. We moored up, unpacked our kit and dragged the canoe up on to the bank then set up our tent in the field. At the time we were again the only people on the site, but as the afternoon went on, more campers had arrived and took up some of the extra space we had.
A well earned drink was once again needed, so we explored the town. It was a rather pleasant little place as far as we could tell, lots of old antique shops and bookstores and we found a good pub to enjoy a cider or two. We also found an excellent Chinese takeaway which would be providing our dinner that night! It was still early afternoon, so we headed back to the campsite and chilled out next to the water for a bit before heading back up to pick up our dinner.
After a long day canoeing and wildlife spotting, the feeling of sitting in our tent, enjoying a great Chinese takeaway was amazing.
I discovered that night that Sarah could potentially sleep through anything. That night I was woken by some commotion on the recreational ground and lots of shouting. Very soon after the place was filled with light and I was desperate for a pee, so I climbed out of the tent and found the light was coming from a group of police cars and officers as they were shining torches around the site. Meanwhile, Sarah slept on, totally unaware. I figured that as the site was full of police officers it was fairly safe to leave Sarah alone in the tent for a couple of minutes whilst I took advantage of the rather nice rowing club facilities. The following morning Sarah had absolutely no recollection of anything happening overnight and she told me how well she had slept all night. Good for her…
Day 3 (Saturday): Ross on Wye to Symonds Yat – and pirate hats
The commotion of the night before aside, day 3 started nicely. There had been a bit of rain throughout the night again, but it was looking like it would be a clear day and ideal for the last short stretch of river from Ross on Wye to Symonds Yat. Once we had ourselves ready and the canoe in the water, it became obvious very quickly that we weren’t going to have such a quiet and peaceful day like the previous couple of days. Being Saturday, it meant that the river was full of people on one day trips and most of them appeared to be stag parties. We weaved and dodged around the other canoes as they all blundered their way down the river, bouncing off the river bank and getting caught in overhanging trees. Once we past most of them and got out of Ross on Wye onto a much wider stretch of river, the view behind us looked like a scene from Zulu… if the Zulus has canoes… Anyway, this meant that if we were to relax and take it easy on our last day, we would most likely get caught up among the crowd behind us.
We were told in the briefing by chatty man Nick that day 3 is the shortest leg but most picturesque. We were also told that he did see another group at their headquarters being taken upstream and they were wearing pirate hats…We couldn’t fault chatty man Nick on either of these points – it actually seemed that at every canoe launching spot along the river, there was a pirate waiting to get into his canoe, but that made for an entertaining break between watching the Kingfishers and other wildlife along the river.
Not far down river from Ross on Wye sits the Medieval Norman ruin of Goodrich Castle, which from the ground is a spectacular site I’m sure, but from the water was even better. Several hundreds of years later, in ruins, it still looms over the water with suggestive power and from the river you can really get an idea of how incredible it would have been in the 1100s. It was another example of just how different everything seems and how great the perspective of the world is from the water.
As we got closer to Symonds Yat the valley grew higher and higher above us and we were almost transported back to the prehistoric era, surrounded by the ancient rock and forest. We had managed to leave behind most of the crowds and we powered on in serenity once again. We were also briefed that the final day has the roughest water too, with lots more smaller but much faster spots of white water to navigate through.
There is one particular section half way down the river which has a small island sat in the middle of the water. We were told that if we wanted a safe, smooth passage through, we should take the left fork around the island. If we went right we would hit deeper and faster white water which would take a bit of concentration and effort to battle through. So of course, we went right. We had enjoyed all the previous sections of tricky water and tackled them perfectly every time (almost) and this was no different. On this section, the current flows in an S bend, firstly going far over to the bank on the right side among the rocks and trees, then out and toward the bank of the island for another potential battering. The water was rough enough that if we hit it wrong and got caught up in the current we could have potentially ended up in the water – losing some of our kit in the process. Challenge accepted! We lined ourselves up to hit the water at exactly the right spot and got through the first part perfectly. Sarah was at the front providing the power and I was steering and driving from the rear. Everything was going perfectly – adrenaline flowing. brains working hard. Then, right in the middle of the S, my brain wasn’t working so well and I drove the paddling into the wrong side of the canoe and steered us too hard back into the current kicking the back of the canoe out 90 degrees and across the river with the current pushing directly into our side. We were a bit stuck and being rotated towards the bank with a few other canoes and kayaks waiting behind us to get through the same section. Working as hard as we could to correct my mistake we managed to push ourselves back in the right direction and out of the white water back to the wider, smoother section to continue our journey. Something we were also told about regarding this section of water is that it’s right outside a pub and it’s a popular spot for people to come and watch people take on that challenge – being a Saturday, we were watched by a good few dozen people. I think we did ourselves proud though, and the kayak behind us wasn’t so lucky!
Soon, Symonds Yat appeared along the top of the valley and the old familiar beach that my dog and I used to sit on came into sight. We landed the canoe, dragged it up into the field for collection and felt a bit sad that our little canoe adventure was over. We loved every bit of it and felt that we could have easily done another day or two on the river. So I think we will definitely be back in the not so distant future.
Afterthought and recap
Was this the experience I was after? Was this the type of adventure I was looking for? Carrying all the kit in our canoe, paddling for multiple days and camping on the riverside – yes it was.
Looking back, several months on, I’m still sad that I didn’t consider booking the 4 day trip and it feels like it was over and done with far too quickly. I’m looking forward to booking another trip through Canoe the Wye, hopefully in the not too distant future!
I would highly recommend looking at Canoe the Wye to everybody reading this. You can hire multiple canoes, go in large groups and spend days out on the river, or you can do what we did and have a peaceful few days out on the river. You receive an excellent briefing from the staff, catered to your experience level, and you’re required to inform them when you leave and arrive at each destination everyday so they know where you are and that you’re safe. They recommend that you book the multi-day trips starting midweek, and I totally agree. I would actually recommend starting earlier in the week as the river does get very busy on the weekend – I’ll probably look at booking Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday next time to avoid the weekend pirates.
The Wye Valley is a spectacular place to visit in general, just for long walks leading up into the Forest of Dean, but I now believe that in order to experience it completely, you need to get on the water. You see so much more and things that you’d never see if you were walking on the riverbank. The river takes you through a vast amount of private land too, so you find completely brand new areas and perspectives of the valley that you wouldn’t get on the ground.
The canoeing isn’t too difficult either. Depending on the weather of course, but the river is mostly smooth with a gentle current. It’s also known to be so shallow that you often end up walking down the middle of the river towing you canoe behind you. If you haven’t canoed before, or have little experience, The River Wye is an ideal spot to develop your skills or learn something amazing.
We’d love to hear from you if you’ve been on a similar trip or have some great suggestions for other canoe trips to take. Just get in touch using the below form!
”Switzerland is a small, steep country, much more up and down than sideways” – ErnestHemingway
For the last 3 years Dan, Olie, Jack and I have explored various parts of the Swedish wilderness, and last year we had the best trip there we could have asked for – exploring the absolutely beautiful Skuleskogen National Park on the east coast, camping on the beach in near 24-hour sunlight and bathing in glorious sunshine.
Unfortunately I didn’t record the trip and it went totally unpublished (can’t remember why!), but it was without a doubt, an awesome few days. I might try and write a little something about our trip to Skuleskogen but I’ll have to do some thinking.
We decided that we simply couldn’t beat our experience in Skuleskogen National Park if we went again this year, so we set our sights on something a little bit different.
We wanted a change of scenery and something slightly more challenging to get stuck into. After months of discussing and looking blankly at maps, we thought The Alps (largest mountain range in Europe) would be an interesting contrast and provide that challenge we were after. The tricky thing, however, was deciding where exactly we should go in The Alps – after all, they cover a huge area of 192,000 km² and spread themselves across 8 countries: France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and Slovenia.
A factor we had to bear in mind when it came to choosing our destination was the roaming laws. Fortunately in Sweden we had the option of, within reason, camping wherever we wanted to. The roaming laws, however, are slightly more strict in many other European countries – including the 8 countries that are home to the Alps. Of course, once you get further up into the mountains this is more manageable, but we opted to look for a remote campsite where we would be able to base ourselves. This then gave us the option each day of leaving behind some unnecessary bits of kit, allowing us to explore the surrounding area with lighter loads. With this in mind I started doing some research into campsites in the Alps and eventually came across Camping Des Glaciers in the very small and remote town of La Fouly. It’s tucked away in the southern corner of Switzerland and as the crow flies, more or less a mile from the French and Italian borders. The pictures on the campsite’s website looked pretty great, with the campsite based at the foot of The Aiguille de l’A Neuve – a bloody big mountain (not a direct translation).
I sent the website link over to Olie, Dan and Jack (featured in all Swedish trips plus others), and organised a little meeting to look into everything else. A while later we were all sat around my dining table with a couple of rapidly emptying wine bottles and we booked the campsite, then the flight to Geneva and a Jeep Renegade to drive around the Alps in – on a side note, the Jeep turned out to be an Opel (Vauxhall) Mokka which is very different to the Jeep Renegade – anyway…we were going to Switzerland!
We knew that this was going to be a very different experience in comparison to what we had grown accustomed to in Sweden. We had the option to relax a bit more, have our own little base for 5 days and take advantage of the facilities that came with a campsite – like a shower. It was more or less going to be luxurious and civilized in comparison and because of this, Olie, Jack and I even opted to leave our huge rucksacks at home, instead, taking suitcases and small day packs for our daily treks.
So, time passed and the day had come to fly to Switzerland
Much like the style of my Sweden articles, the rest of this piece will be written using the entries from a journal I kept every day during the trip. Unlike other articles however, my journal entries on this trip were fairly small and simple, so I’ll interrupt every now and then to explain or elaborate on certain bits. It’ll make sense once we get going.
Oh.. also bear in mind that just hours before I got on the plane my girlfriend gave me this advice:
‘Always listen to Dan. Dan is sensible and if he says not to do something, don’t do it.’
Thursday 23rd May 2019 – Day 1
We have a campsite. An actual tents on the ground, toilet block consisting, reception bearing, humanity inhabiting campsite. It’s definitely the contrast to the Swedish trips we’ve been looking for.
Not entirely sure how I feel about it yet. I already miss my hammock and the forests.
The view I had whilst laying in my tent
This campsite is incredible though. Halfway up a massive snow peaked mountain, surrounded by even more mountains and even more snow. It’s so much better than the photographs on the website make it look. Currently the site is basically empty so it’s silent except for the sound of the river of glacial water running from the mountain above us.
We had an early flight out from Luton this morning, so we’ve all been up since about 03:00am. I have to say, the drive from Geneva Airport to La Fouly could have started better. Due to some navigation difficulties we had a nice little drive around the terminal a few times before eventually hitting the correct road and heading away from Geneva in the right direction. The drive was pretty much just one very long road for a couple of hours, but half of that was around Lake Geneva which I didn’t realise was so massive and beautiful. I would come back just to spend time around there I think. The road then wound it’s way up into the Alps and away we went.
The winding, twisting mountain roads would prove to be quite nauseating but we’ll get to that later…
It’s now 21:00pm and we’re a bit tired to say the least. We decided that today would be the day to relax, acclimatize and check out the immediate area before going exploring tomorrow. I’m not too sure of our plans for tomorrow exactly, but the mountain looks enticing. Every time I look at it, I’m just blown away. It’s hard to tell the size of it, but it looks like an amazing backdrop or painting and it is enormous. Definitely need to get up there at some point.
Taken whilst stood in the river. Camp was just behind the trees on the right.
We had a quick nap once we’d set up our tents and then did the next most important thing and found a nice local bar which served even nicer, well needed, cold Swiss beer. We had a couple of beers each then headed back to camp and made dinner. I think Wayfayrer meals are great, but you certainly don’t get the same reaction from them as you do from a beautiful, crisp, cold beer. We did realise at the bar that being able to speak French would have been helpful. None of us really know anything in French other than ‘Where is the swimming pool?’ and ‘Where is the library?’ and not forgetting the very useful, ‘When is your birthday?’.. none of which are particularly helpful questions. Especially when we wouldn’t understand the answer. Lot’s of pointing and gesturing was required..
In bed now and it’s nearly 22:00pm. Going to get some sleep. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.
Thursday was definitely a day of relaxing and getting our bearings, but Olie and I did have a little exploration that afternoon to check out the river that ran down from the mountain and alongside our camp. We got a very little way up the mountain and realised how unfit we were.. so that didn’t bode well, but we had a little wander about to get an idea of what we would do the next day. The mountain was definitely calling.
Friday 24th May 2019 – Day 2
”Wear Sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.” – Baz Luhrmann
For the first time in a very long, long time, I slept nearly all night whilst camping. I woke up at about 08.15am which was an absolute treat!
We eventually had breakfast which was accompanied by a freshly baked baguette Dan had collected from the camp reception.
We discovered that we could actually order fresh breads and pastries at reception for the next day. So fresh croissants became our go to option for the rest of the trip. It would have been rude not to really…
During breakfast we made the plan to follow one of the routes up the mountain above us. The map told us that there was a cabin way up there somewhere which we could go and find and potentially stop for some lunch or something before making our way back down. Firstly however, we had a quick stop at the local shop in town to get essentials – I bought a very nice 10 pack of Boxer Biere which I stored in the river to keep cool as today has been super hot.
The Ascent (Dan left/Olie right)
We started the trail at about 10:00am in a small pine forest which lead up the mountain. As much as I love the mountains and hiking, I seriously hate going uphill.. but this was actually a very pleasant start to the trek. After a few breaks we eventually hit the snow line where it got slightly more interesting. Deep holes were covered with snow, which when stood on went right up to the waist in some places. It was pretty fun until we found the occasional massive rock to crash into underneath. This made progress up the mountain very slow but we eventually broke out of the treeline, losing our shade from the sun – and it was only getting hotter! We really weren’t expecting it to be so hot this weekend. Just a couple of days ago I was looking at the weather forecast and it predicted snow today!
We reached a section where the trail had been completely buried by the snow. The only option we had, if we wanted to keep climbing, was to stick to the rocky ridges that protruded from the snow.
Rest Stop (Dan left/Jack right)
The problem being, we didn’t know how deep the drop would be from there through the snow and to one side was a massive gorge with a couple of waterfalls running down into it and on the other was a perfectly fresh, 45 degree slope of snow. Under which could have been anything. The next rocky ridge leading up the mountain was on the other side of this slope, and not knowing how deep or how sturdy it was, we paused for a moment to think of some options. Then Olie and I stopped pausing and just went for it. It was strong enough to take our weight so after some jumping about we crossed it and climbed up onto the rocks on the other side. Jack and Dan stayed where they were.
I like to think I performed a fantastic example of a dynamic risk assessment here.
Dan took the opportunity to get his camera out and take some photos. Jack took the opportunity to rest and Olie and I took the opportunity to leave them behind and climb up the mountain. When the trail started to get harder, we picked a goal to reach which was a small peak just above our spot on the ridge.
It was maybe just 400m or so away but that 400m or so away was up a very steep slope of slippy rocks, ice and snow. We gave up trying to walk some of it and resorted to scrambling and bouldering some sections – definitely got the blood pumping. As the base of the peak loomed above us, we found the only way up was a very precarious looking wall which had a chain fixed into it to help you climb it bit by very slippery bit. I think it was Donkey from Shrek that said ”keep on going, don’t look down.. keep on going, don’t look down” and that was some pretty sage advice.
We reached the top and, as we stood looking down to where our camp was, we were absolutely blown away. The view was incredible and awe inspiring. Everything below us was tiny, the town was minuscule and Jack and Dan, who were just a few hundred metres below, looked like ants.
Our view from the top
The scary thing was though as we looked behind us, back up the mountain, we weren’t even half way up! The real peaks of the mountain still towered above us completely. The scale was so enormous that it hardly looked like we’d made any progress at all.
The view looking up
The peak we were stood on is circled in this picture.. The top of the mountain is just sticking out from above cloud.
Dan had eventually decided to cross the snow and walk up the ridge below us, which is where he stayed. From his view, the peak we were stood on looked tiny, but from where we were, it was a large area which eventually linked up with the main trail we had started from, however it was totally inaccessible due to the snow. We just didn’t have the right kit to traverse the rest of the way. The cabin we had sought out was not going to materialise, but it didn’t matter. The view we had from up there was worth every step.
We waved down at Dan who waved back in a ‘get down from there!’ angry parent kind of way. Pointing at us and then down to where he was. ‘I don’t think Dan approves of this’, Olie said, as we sat down for a minute, took some photographs and carefully abseiled off the peak using the rusty old chain back down to Dan. Jack was sensible enough to stay put a little bit further down on the other side of the slope.
Dan is stood fairly central to this picture if you can’t see him
We started our decent back down to him which, due to being so steep, was actually harder than going up the ridge in the first place. So, much to Dan’s disapproval, I decided to throw caution to the wind and just slide down the precarious looking snowy slope. Thanks to my boots having the worst grip in the world, it was so much easier and only when I got down to Jack did I go through the snow and hit a big rock.
It’s over a week later and I still have a big purple bruise on my knee
On our way back down the mountain, as we dipped back into the treeline, we met a group of German hikers. They asked how difficult it was and, looking at them in their jeans and trainers, I wished them luck and let them keep going. Never did see them come down…
We eventually got back to camp and I retrieved the beers from the river and it took us less than an hour to go through the whole pack. We are now also incredibly sunburnt, especially Dan. I just read a bit of my book in the sun, played rummy with Jack and Olie and later I think we’ll enjoy a nice bottle of wine we managed to get for free from the reception currently being chilled in the river.
*’Always listen to Dan. Dan is sensible and if he says not to do something, don’t do it.’ Dan is also the person who brought sunscreen and refused to put any of it on before climbing the mountain on a super hot, clear day and had to spend the rest of the day in his tent hiding from the sun. I wouldn’t say that was particularly sensible. At least I just totally forgot to bring any in the first place.
I must admit though, the free bottle of wine came from a rather large cock up on my side as I didn’t understand the booking site I used for the campsite and overpaid considerably. Therefore, free wine and ice creams were part of paying us back (as well as a massive discount on the outstanding amount we had to pay).
Lesson learnt today: Wear Sunscreen – cheers Baz.
Dan’s sunburn developing nicely (Olie on right)
Saturday 25th May 2019 – Day 3
I woke up this morning at 07:30am after another pretty successful night’s sleep – actually I was woken up by Dan asking for the car key which Olie actually had in his tent instead, so that was annoying but he made up for it by returning with some croissants. I do like a croissant. It was raining already and had been for a while, but I was so warm and comfortable in bed that I really didn’t care.
Due to opting for a suitcase over my rucksack, I took advantage of being able to fit a comfortable camping bed, three sleeping bags and a woollen blanket to go in my tent. It wasn’t exactly wild camping this year..
We made some more breakfast – well, I made a coffee and Dan stayed in his tent hiding from the sun. He is very burnt…
A plan was made to follow a circular track that ran next to the river and through the valley, across and back along the base of the mountains opposite, eventually leading back into the campsite. It wasn’t going to be a challenging route and probably no more than 18km, which suited us after yesterday’s climb. It stopped raining and Dan tentatively revealed himself from his tent to brave the very overcast sun for the day.
Dan (left) and Jack (right)
The track started in the same small pine forest as yesterday’s but ran along the side of the mountains instead of up. We took a slight detour once we came across a huge waterfall coming down from the left and running across the track and into the river on our right. The climb up to the waterfall was steep but manageable, so it was definitely worth having a closer look. As we reached the top of the ridge, we were cut off from getting any closer due to the snow and ice that had built up at the bottom of the falls, under which you could hear the water flowing heavily. It wasn’t worth the risk of falling through and getting wet and potentially quite sore.
Coming down from the waterfall (Dan, Olie, Jack)
We continued along the track, or what was left of it – in various places the path had been completely wiped out by landslides and rock falls. Whilst climbing over one precarious landslide I managed to slip and cut my hand – Stevie Nicks makes a landslide sound far more romantic…
We crossed the river on a very wobbly bridge and climbed up and out of the ravine into a pretty little village called Prayon, one of the most picturesque villages I’ve seen, and also where the route took a huge incline.
The track we were on was supposedly a cycle track, but I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable taking a bike on it. I’ll leave that to the likes of Mel I think!
Once the track left Prayon it wound through a large pine forest, occasionally cut and redirected by streams and rivers crashing down from the huge mountains above with spectacular views across the valley.
View across the valley to the waterfall we had checked out (Olie)
We got a little stuck at times due to the lack of detail on the 1:50,000 scale map we were using, and as the navigator for the day, that’s the excuse I’m sticking to. After a few short breaks to check the map and then check it again, then again, we noticed the clouds rapidly descending towards us from the mountain tops, bringing with them even more rain. Packs off, coats on, hoods up –
Apart from Olie who didn’t want to put his coat on because it’s actually a poncho and he’s worried it makes him look stupid – he’s not wrong.
-packs back on and keep checking the maps as we head in the general direction of La Fouly. As the town came into the view the rain began to seriously try and get Olie to put his poncho on…it failed and he was happy to get wet for the walk back to campsite.
I’ve been back in my tent, away from the rain for a little while now and can hear the occasional bit of thunder around us somewhere. We can also hear small rock falls and avalanches rumbling down the side of the mountain above us, which makes me grateful that the campsite isn’t directly below it…So far we’ve actually seen and heard them at least two or three times a day and it’s an impressive sight to see and some of them make a truly awesome noise which I originally believed to be a plane over head until I saw the debris coming down.
I got a really good video of this but for some reason I can’t upload it..
I wouldn’t be surprised if we get some more beers tonight…It’s only 16:45 but I’ve been in my tent for about an hour now and a beer would be really, really appreciated. It doesn’t sound or look like the rain’s planning on sodding off any time soon.
On reflection…whilst laying here, listening to the rain pounding on my tent…without my beer…this trip may not be as inspiring as Sweden was over the last few years, but we’ve had the challenge we were looking for and the whole area is absolutely stunning. Definitely one of the most picturesque places I’ve been so far.
Walking out of Prayon
Sunday 26th May 2019 – Day 4
My camping sleeping pattern of being too hot, then too cold, then too uncomfortable and then really comfortable but a bit too warm but too comfortable to do anything about it then overheating slightly so roll over to shift some bedding about and get uncomfortable again…and repeat…came back last night. However, lucky me, I also had a song stuck in my head going over and over and over again…So I was a bit tired to say the least this morning. I blame the soundtrack from the musical Hamilton for that as I was playing some of it to Jack last night which then caused the title track to be stuck in my head for bloody hours until the rain kicked in and I was more concerned about my tent either filling with water or just floating away…neither happened.
Anyway…for some reason this morning the other three sat in the car for ages after breakfast, so I grabbed the map and had a look at any potential paths to follow for our last day’s trek. The tracks around the site and La Fouly in general were quite limited, we had walked the majority of them already over the last couple of days, so I looked further out of the area. When I was researching the area a while ago during a slow day at work, I discovered a couple of large lakes in the nearby area. I eventually found some of these on the map and discovered that they were either at the top of some bloody huge mountains that weren’t accessible at the moment, over an hours’ drive away, in Italy or, even worse, in France. This left just one other lake, not so big on the map, but it did have a circular track that went around one side and up in the mountains and back round to the lake. Perfect. Lac Des Toules, in the Bourg-Saint-Pierre region, was where we would spend the last full day in Switzerland hiking. I did a quick google of the lake and it looked amazing. It was actually a reservoir controlled by a gigantic dam. It looked pretty impressive.
I showed the others the plan and booted them out of the car and told them to be ready in 20 minutes, then drove to the toilet block for the morning constitutional. We were tight with time, as by now it was nearly midday, Lac Des Toules was nearly 40 minutes away, the route would be about 3 hours and Jack has been desperate to go to a pizza place in La Fouly since before we got on the plane to Switzerland. We then also needed to get all of our kit packed up as much as possible in order to leave super early for tomorrow morning’s flight. Time was against us and the longer we took, the less likely a nice meal on our last night was looking. Oh and we’ve ran out of gas in our stove, so it was either a nice hot meal in some restaurant or cold boil in the bag meals..
I got back to the camp just before the 20 minutes was up and we were pretty much all ready to go. We stopped to refill the water bottles and we were away, perfectly on time… then Jack needed to get something from the shop in La Fouly again. About 20 minutes later they all came out of the shop and got in the car. Olie had decided to buy some cheese for the journey-
this very shortly turns out to be a bad idea
-and some Swiss Army Knives were purchased too. Just as we were leaving La Fouly, Olie decided to open his cheese which immediately stank out the car, it smelt like goats cheese, but we weren’t too sure what it was. Not long after that, and before we even reached the next town out of La Fouly, we had to stop to let Dan get out of the car as he was feeling very sick.
I blame the cheese smell, plus the incredibly bendy mountain roads – not my general driving style.
This happened a couple of times on the drive to Lac Des Toules and just as he got in back in the car the last time, the huge dam we were expecting to come across appeared in the valley ahead of us.
Dam (focus didn’t work very well)
Almost stitching the valley together, the dam was massive and so much bigger than the pictures online let on, which meant the lake or reservoir behind it must also be pretty spectacular. As we wound around another stomach churning mountain road we disappeared into a tunnel which ran adjacent to the lake. We were expecting to come back out of the tunnel and be met with a glorious sight, but what we actually found was very different.
If you Google Lac Des Toules right now, it’ll show you hundreds of amazing pictures of a beautiful, almost perfectly blue, lake surrounded my mountains – just lovely! What it won’t show you is that right now, Lac Des Toules is actually just an absolutely colossal empty hole in the ground with little to no sign of there ever being water in there in the first place. I’m not sure if we actually took pictures of it, but if you imagine a huge hole in the ground, you’ll have a fairly good idea. Lac Des Toules appeared to now be a quarry. At this point Dan informed me that the map he bought of the area was nearly 5 years out of date. Something he had forgotten to mention previously.
It doesn’t look like this at the moment..
We drove to the end of the huge hole in ground, parked up in a lay-by and looked at the map. The track I had planned wasn’t going to be particularly interesting anymore and we were far higher up than we originally thought we would be. Just above the lay-by we were in people were still skiing down the mountains in the same area the track was supposed to be. The same path however did head off down away from the lake, towards a little town further down the valley then came back on itself, so we chose to do that. It was a little shorter than planned, but after driving nearly 40 minutes to get there, we didn’t see any point in driving even further to find something else.
We found a place to leave the car just off a small dusty road directly underneath the dam which towered above us –
I can imagine it would be quite scary and daunting if it wasn’t just holding back a few rocks and lots of absolutely nothing else.
Our car. Definitely not like a Jeep Renegade.
-so we didn’t have to worry about losing the car or forgetting where we left it anyway. The track followed a line cut through the valley by a small river and ducked down into another pine forest. Along the way, on a small open part of grassland, we spotted a number of Mamottes –
-which are so much bigger than I was expecting. I imagined them to be a similar size to a gopher, but I was very wrong. They were pretty much just badger size. If a badger somehow managed to have babies with a guinea pig, you would have a Marmotte.
The route was certainly picturesque with the occasional gap in the trees presenting a perfect view through the valley and the small town below. Coming down on our left hand side from the mountains were numerous waterfalls that then ran under the track and crashed down into the river on our right which at times was a shear hundred foot drop below us.
At a junction where the track turned right to go over the bridge and up into the town above, the route continuing ahead had been completely destroyed by a recent rockfall. We weren’t going in that direction but if we were we would be stuffed. Unlike the other rockfalls and landslides we were able to climb over, this one was far too dangerous and had torn away the entire track instead of just burying it. Olie and I still walked out as far as we could to have a peek though, obviously.
We crossed a little bridge over the river and climbed down to the riverside to have a little break.
Dan took some photos, and I just ate some pistachio nuts…anyway…
The river was much deeper where we had stopped, potentially caused by the landslide just on the other side of the bridge crashing into the river. I sat on a boulder next to the water and it was a perfect moment to just stop and absorb the peacefulness of the surroundings, with nothing but the sound of the river flowing under my feet.
A little while later we walked up the other side of the valley, along yet another bendy winding road and into the rather lovely small town of Saint Pierre. Much like many of the little towns and villages we had been through, the place was silent and we seemed to be the only people out and about. Mind you, it’s been raining pretty much all day, so they were probably sensible enough to not be walking about in the rain..
We dropped back down into the valley and started on the stretch leading back to the car through the forest. Lucky for us, the whole track had been downhill until coming up into the town, unlucky for us though meant that the rest of the trek back to the car was all uphill and not a particularly friendly incline either. So we took our time and trudged all the way back up the mountain towards the dam…in the rain…
We stopped for a short while at the open section of grassland again to watch the marmottes. On our way down we only saw two or three but this time the ground was littered with them on both sides of the valley.
They’re probably an absolute menace to local farmers, but they’re also a bit cute.
Fortunately we found the car exactly where we left it and climbed in. We had finished our last little walk about in the Swiss Alps. All that was left was to go to the pizza restaurant Jack had found and just relax, pack our stuff away and get ready for our journey home tomorrow morning.
So now everything is packed away. On the way out my luggage weighed about 4kg over the limit, but I got away with it somehow and now everything feels even heavier. Really not sure how I’ve done that.. All of my smelly, wet and muddy clothes are shoved in one of my bags and I’m just in my normal clothes for the first time since Thursday morning and it’s rather nice. I think I’m going to have a cold night as I have packed all of my bedding away apart from one sleeping bag. So tomorrow morning should just be a matter of getting up at 04:00am and packing up the tent which takes a whole 2 minutes. Should be fine. Which also means I can enjoy some beer and pizza tonight without regretting it too much tomorrow morning.
At this point I actually stopped writing as plans changed slightly..
Dan was hiding in his tent from the daylight again and Olie and Jack had just returned from having a chat with the lady on the campsite reception desk. One detail that had been missed regarding the pizza restaurant was that it actually wasn’t opening until June or July, so pizza was no longer an option. She did recommend a nice place to go called Café du Dolent in Prayon, the town we had walked through on Saturday. We decided that was a much better option compared to hiding in our tents and eating cold boil in the bag meals in the rain.
The cafe/restaurant was definitely a bit more of a ‘locals’ place though. We walked in and immediately realised that nobody really spoke a word of English and again, our lack of being able to say anything of use in French, Italian, Dutch or any other language that might be useful in Switzerland became an interesting obstacle. I took the lead and, with some gestures and what will probably turn out to be complete gibberish, we got a table, worked our way through the menu and enjoyed a lovely meal together.
If you’re ever in Prayon for whatever reason, get over to the only bar/restaurant/cafe in the village and order yourself the Carbonara with salmon. It was glorious and I’ve actually made it myself about 5 times since being home. The chef and owner of the place could potentially be a murderer (scary eyes), and if you get to sit at our table, you’ll get to eat right underneath an interesting photograph of him posing with a massive dead ibex that he shot.. but other than that, the food is great and so is the beer we sampled multiple times.
And with that, our time in Switzerland came to an end.
As mentioned already, we decided to go to Switzerland for a change of scenery and something a bit different and relaxed compared to Sweden. I touched slightly on it in my journal entry about how I felt this left me and the others possibly feeling like something was missing though.
The whole area was absolutely stunning and I couldn’t find a fault with the place at all. It really was beautiful and I would definitely go back but not necessarily to do what we did this year. I think the feeling of missing something was because of the lack of dependence on the surrounding environment. In Sweden, because we really were just living in wilderness and sleeping in the forests every night, we had to rely on everything around us to keep us going. In Switzerland, that was totally removed. By having our own campsite and being able to leave stuff behind for the day or being able to sit in the tents and relax whilst it was raining, we didn’t have to rely on the environment to give us firewood, shelter or somewhere to hang our hammocks for the night. I think what was missing was being in touch with that inner caveman that needs checking in on every now and then. It wasn’t a wild camping trip, but it was a beautiful one.
I think we’re planning on getting back to basics next year and exploring Norwegian wilderness – searching for that missing piece of adventure. So that could be interesting!
Thanks for taking your time to read my article. I hope, if anything, it’s just given you something interesting or entertaining to read. Just below the group photo, there’s a little slideshow of some of the featured images from the article along with some others from the trip.
His site is a fantastic source of all things outdoors with a mixture of adventures, kit lists, recipes and crafts. As well as providing us with his recipe for Campfire Fish and Chips, Gavin has also been generous enough to share with us his first attempt at carving a kuksa and the end results look brilliant! So how did he do it?
Let me first of all start by offering a disclaimer; I am by no means an expert in this field, indeed it is the first time that I’ve carved a kuksa! I’m writing this post very much from the layman’s perspective with the hope that you might learn from my mistakes!
What is a kuksa?
Popular among bushcraft and outdoor enthusiasts, the kuksa is a traditional style of drinking cup originating from the Sami people of northern Scandinavia. Usually carved from wood, but modern variants have been produced from plastic or wood/plastic composites.
Sourcing the wood:
The process of creating my kuksa started several months ago in the summer of 2018. My wife and I were out walking the dog when we discovered that a Sycamore tree beside a public footpath had been felled and the remnants were bucked up into small sections. I immediately noticed a piece that I could make use of which seemed to be big enough to make a decent kuksa. The wood pile had been sat there for a few weeks before I plucked up the courage to take the bit that I’d spotted! I considered that, as it was on public land, it was probably fair game!
I carried the wood home (it wasn’t far!) and left it in my garden to ‘season’. Rightly or wrongly, I had reservations about using green wood to carve a kuksa. Even though the wood is easier to carve when it’s green, I’ve heard there’s a risk that it will crack up during the drying process, rendering the cup useless!
And here I am, several months later in March 2019 and I thought the time was right to start work on my very own kuksa. I recall having conversations with my wife about Kuksa’s, she rightly pointed out the lovely examples that I could purchase from a variety of shops and crafts people. I agreed that they were indeed lovely, but were crucially missing one key element – I hadn’t made them! What a thrill it is to be able to put something that you’ve made into regular use.
Before we get into it, I thought it would be good to run through the tools that I used on this project. I was very keen to keep things simple by using basic hand tools, here’s what I ended up using
Axe – I actually used two; my Wetterlings Outdoor Axe to do the splitting and bulk waste removal. I then switched to my Gransfors Bruks Small Hatchet because it offered me more control as I got nearer to my markings. To be fair, I was a bit indulgent here as the Wetterlings was more than capable.
Bahco Laplander Saw – For stop-cuts and bulk waste removal
Mora Companion Knife – For shaping the outside of the cup
Mora 120 Carving Knife – For the more detailed shaping of the cup
Casstrom Crook Knife – To carve out the bowl of the cup
Pencil – To mark out the shape of the kuksa
Whetstone and Leather Strop – this was used a lot to keep the blades in good order!
Sandpaper – starting with a course 60 grit and moving up to a fine 240 grit
I also kept a first aid kit close by – just in case, indeed there were one or two incidents which required a plaster!
Stage One: Splitting the Wood
The first stage of the project is to split down the log. I carefully selected a piece of Sycamore which was relatively straight grained and not compromised with any nasty knots or twists. I split it down the middle and selected the section which offered me the greatest depth for the kuksa. I felt it was important to have a Kuksa which was deep enough to hold a decent cup of tea!
Using my axe, I then removed the pith and flattened off the split section so that I had a surface on which to mark out my kuksa shape. I sought inspiration from my plastic Kasa Kuksa (made by Wildo) for the design that I was working towards.
Stage Two: Roughing out
With the design marked out, I started to axe out the rough shape of the kuksa. In some sections, I created some stop cuts with the saw so that I could split away some of waste material. In this sense, I was following a similar process to what I would usually do when carving a spoon.
I did however choose to leave an extended section of the wood on the handle end of the Kuksa. This was for safety reasons so that I could keep my hand out the way while using the axe.
Stage Three: Scoopy scoopy time!
Time to get the crook knife out and carve out the bowl. In all honesty this is the hardest bit and will take a bit of time. My hand took a bit of a beating from the crook knife. I picked up blisters and scrapes and took regular breaks to rest the muscles in my hand and wrist. At times, I forced myself to stop as I was fearful of losing control of the blade and causing myself an injury.
The crucial lesson that I learnt in this stage was to just take my time. I’d often take the opportunity to stop when I noticed the blade was starting to dull and I’d touch it up with the strop or whetstone.
While carving the bowl, I took care to ensure that I wasn’t removing too much material. I was conscious that I still had to refine the outside of the cup and was also concerned that some cracks may appear as the wood continued to dry out.
This process could be simplified by using power tools. For instance you could drill a series of holes into the bowl at set depths to remove the bulk of the waste material and then refine the bowl with a crook knife. It’s also plausible that a curved gouge might have been easier. Alas, I was keen to use the tools that are available to most whittlers and spoon carvers.
Stage Four: Time to refine
Nearly there now! The final job is to refine the outside of the cup and the handle. At this point I used my two Mora knives. My main objective here was to remove any rough axe marks, keep a fairly flat base to the kuksa and shape the sides so that they curve nicely up to the lip of the cup.
Thereafter, I turnt my attention to the handle. As mentioned earlier, I sought inspiration from my plastic Kasa Kuksa. I like the ergonomics of that design and did my best to replicate it.
I tried to produce a kuksa which was aesthetically pleasing, but inevitably found that I’d left a few uneven areas where I’d removed too much waste! But with that said, I reached a point where I was pretty happy with the overall shape and feel of the kuksa.
Stage Five: Finish
The final job was to sand and oil the kuksa. I started with a course grit of sandpaper and moved my way through a series of papers until I got to a 240 grit which left a nice smooth finish. I then poured some water over the cup. I don’t fully understand the science behind this but, in my experience, this process opens up the grain and exposes any rough spots. When it’s dried I gave it another go with the 240 grit sandpaper and then it was ready for oil.
Confession: I did cheat ever so slightly by using my drill to make a hole in the handle for a lanyard loop. This could be done with an auger, but I don’t have one!
Finally, I liberally applied a couple of coats of Walnut oil and left it in my shed to dry.
Stage Six: The Christening!
This is the best bit! Now is the time to take the cup to back to nature and enjoy a nice cup of tea!
Barney’s final thoughts…
I’m very proud of this little cup. It was a lovely project to undertake and put a lot of my wood crafting skills to the test. In all honesty, it didn’t quite turn out as well as I’d hoped. I’d really liked to have created a cup with a slightly larger capacity. It currently holds around 180ml when I was aiming for something closer to 250ml. I was also hoping to create a better finish on the outside of the cup, unfortunately I think I just ran out of talent!
With that said, I’ve intentionally left the side walls and base of the kuksa a bit thicker than I’d like as I still have concerns that it might develop some cracks while the wood seasons. If this doesn’t happen then I shall definitely return to it with my crook knife and increase the overall volume. I guess that’s the beauty of a wooden kuksa, there’s always scope for refinement!
I thoroughly recommend you give this a go. I wouldn’t say it’s the best thing to try if you’re new to wood carving. But if you’ve dabbled in a bit of spoon carving and feel confident with your tools then this project will make for an interesting challenge.
Thanks as always for taking the time to read this blog, hopefully it’s helped shed light on the process of creating a Kuksa, at least from a beginners perspective
You can keep up to date with Gavin/Barney on Instagram: @Gavin_Riggall
Let us know what you think of Gavin’s first attempt at carving a kuksa!
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If you want to submit a craft of your own, or your own adventures, recipes and experiences, then get in touch and let’s get started!
His site is a fantastic source of all things outdoors with a mixture of adventures, kit lists, crafts and recipes. One of his recipes in particular is the amazing Campfire Fish and Chips which I will definitely be trying at some point very soon!
Hand’s up… who likes fish and chips? Yep me too!
Recently I wondered if I could take one of the nation’s favourite takeaways and cook it over a campfire. I also wondered if I could make it a little healthier but without losing that great taste. So here’s what I did:
Ingredients: 1 x Potato 1 x fillet of fish (I used smoked haddock) A spoonful of butter or cooking oil A pinch of salt and pepper for seasoning
Optional extras: A tin of mushy peas A dollop of tartare sauce
Before cooking get your fire established and leave it to burn down to a reasonable bed of coals. Sometimes I like to keep the fire going and then drag some of the coals out to one side for cooking so that I can replenish the coals when the heat dies down.
Alternatively you can just as easily cook this meal on a camping stove, I imagine it will work really well on a trangia as the heat is not quite as focussed or intense as a gas stove and can also be dampened down.
While waiting for the fire you can prep the potato by chopping it into cubes or chips. I chopped mine into cubes as I felt it would cook a bit more efficiently. I then placed the grill/trivet over the coals and put my pan on the grill with the butter (but don’t add all of the butter – save some for the fish).
When the pan was nice and hot and the butter melted I put the potatoes on to cook. These will take about 20-30mins depending on how big you chopped them up. I ensured that they had a nice covering of butter so that they would go crispy and golden.
Add a pinch of salt and pepper seasoning, it’s not necessary but I think it helps to enhance the flavour of the potato.
When you think the potatoes are nearly done, think about putting the mushy peas on to cook. You can do this by pouring them into a pan/canteen cup or just leave them in the tin can, remove the paper label and place on the grill or in the coals. Be sure to stir the peas regularly so that they don’t burn on the bottom, they only need to be warmed through so take it off the heat as soon as it starts bubbling up.
Make some space on the pan for your fish, add your remaining butter and then the fish (skin side down if possible). Depending on the heat of your fire, the fish won’t take very long to cook, flip it over after about 3 minutes. You’ll know it’s cooked when you can start to flake the fish apart.
And that’s it, I made space on the pan for my peas and then added a smattering of tartare sauce (aren’t I posh!!). Alternatively a dollop of tomato sauce would be just as nice!
It looked and tasted lovely and best of all, it smelt just like fish and chips!!
Give it a go and let us know how you get on!
To join the ‘intothesticks Community’ and submit your own recipes, adventures, crafts, experiences or anything else with the world, just get in touch and we’ll get started!
Female mountain bikers are a small population but definitely on the rise, and my inspiration and desire to be able to get out and shred on a bike came from Rachel Atherton and Tahnee Seagrave almost 3 years ago when I met my other half, Lewis, and he introduced me to his passion for mountain biking. I would sit and watch Red Bull videos of different mountain bikers and suddenly I was hooked.
I do have some background in extreme sports after trying my hand at trials biking when I was younger. My idol was Dougie Lampkin, but after hitting my teenage years and going to college then onto University, I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in ten years and actually wondered whether this was something I could still do.
At first, I had a few rides on Lewis’ old 2006 Kona Scab hard tail which was gathering dust in the shed, and kept to local trails through Ashridge Forest and Wendover woods. But soon, I found myself wanting a lighter and better bike, and all the gear that goes with it. I didn’t want to spend a fortune at first after worrying that, after my inevitable first crash, I may throw a hissy fit and never want to ride a bike again. So to my surprise Lewis found a fantastic deal through a Facebook group to swap the Kona for a 2009 Specialized Safire which was full suspension and perfect for me to learn and progress on.
The first few rides were wobbly and not without tears and tantrums (which do still happen occasionally) when I didn’t feel fit enough for the climbs and technical sections on the trails. But the feeling of freedom coming down the other side and spending time outside in the woods more than makes up for any challenges thrown at me. To me, riding provides a sense of freedom and escape from the stresses that everyday life brings to us all. There’s nothing better than being able to ride with my best friend who inspires me every time we take the bikes out; he pushes me to ride bigger and better things all the time, plus he picks me up off the floor and sees to my cuts and bruises a fair amount as well.
Some of my favourite trails to ride are at Swinley Forest, Bracknell. Always great fun no matter what the weather (although I’m not usually one for going out in the rain – I’d rather be sat in the coffee shop with a giant slab of cake!) But anyone based in the South East who would like to try their hand at mountain biking should definitely check Swinley out, they have trails for all abilities or you can always stick to the fire roads at first and enjoy the scenery. I’ve also been to the last two UCI Mountain Bike world cup rounds at Fort William, Scotland which always has the best atmosphere and draws a great crowd of people who are all there for the same reason: to watch some awesome professional riders from around the world ride hard and fast down the side of a mountain.
Riding is a way to connect with nature, escape a desk job, breathe fresh air, go on an adventure, explore a new place, get your heart rate up, strengthen yourself mentally and physically, be challenged, get rad, have fun, express individualism, feel a sense of freedom and hang out with friends or enjoy a peaceful moment alone.
At a time when cycling amongst children seems to have dropped at an alarming rate, especially amongst young girls who might not even consider mountain biking as an option, it’s important to remind young people that there is a world of opportunity outside of social media and that being adventurous and getting muddy in the woods is a hundred times more fun than getting likes on a Facebook photo. As a female mountain biker, I can confirm that there’s nothing wrong with being seen as ‘one of the boys’ and the one piece of advice that I could give to anyone is if you just get on your bike and take a ride in the woods you never know where it may take you.
This year, the avid explorers that are Dan, Olie, Jack and I, decided to invade the beautiful wilderness of Sweden once more. After the success of last year’s trip, we decided to make a few changes. Not to make it any less successful, but to actually achieve the goal that we set for ourselves last year but did not accomplish. We wanted to live in the bush properly – no address, no WiFi, no electricity. A real escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and the secure bubble of society. The only thing we would have is a hire car to get to our starting destination and the rucksacks on our back.
We only had three nights and four days, so decided that a hiking trail would be the best way to access the areas we wanted to get to and see what we wanted to see. After what seemed to be a lifetime of planning, we – or rather, Olie – finally discovered The Bergslagsleden. A 280KM (174 miles) trail, set almost perfectly in the centre of Sweden, running south to north. After reading into it and doing a bit of homework, it sounded perfect. The southern end runs through Tiveden National Park, the area we were in last year, and the northern end is known as ‘the most wild wilderness of Sweden’. It also happened to start just up the road from the town of Kopparberg. – the birth place of, well, Kopparberg cider. I was immediately sold by that alone.
Last year I wrote a journal and published it as the full article. This year, however, due to being in the wild every night, I didn’t want to risk my journal getting ruined, so I kept it very brief. So this time, I’ll write what I had in there but also add a few bits to it as we go along. The journal extracts will be italic and my comments are seperated. You’ll understand once we get going.
So we’ve decided to return to Sweden, but this time we’ll do it properly. No cabin, no home, no address. Just our hammocks, boots and rucksacks. This time we go into the wild.
As now usual practice for our ventures, something has gone wrong already, and we haven’t even left England yet. It was all going to plan, we agreed that Sarah would be the airport taxi, drop us off, pick us up, simples. However, when packing the car it suddenly hit me. There are not enough seats. There was to be 1 driver and 4 passengers….in a 4 seater car. After numerous illegal suggestions were made –
I’ll point out here that Olie suggested we all cram inside and ‘F**k the seatbelts!’ Plus due to us leaving from one airport and coming home at another one, it wasn’t going to be as simple as just leaving the car there for the duration.
-the only logical solution that came to mind was that I would drop Jack and Olie at Stansted last night, go home, and Sarah would take me and Dan to meet them in the morning. It should be mentioned that the plan was made at 21:00 last night. I wasn’t at home until near 01:00am. I would have to be back at the airport just 4 hours later. So that happened and when I woke up from my 1 hour sleep last night and checked how Jack and Olie were getting on at the airport all I got from them was ‘We didn’t sleep, but we
did get drunk.’
So this bodes well.
The flight started off perfectly fine, but the lady who sat next to me insisted on using me as a pillow. I’m sadly far too nice to push a sleeping lady off my shoulder, so I just let her stay there. That was until I fell asleep and had one of those ‘holy crap I’m falling’ moments, suddenly jolted awake and scared the crap out of her.
I forgot how much I liked Skavska Airport, really does just feel like you’re landing in somebody’s field, sent into a shed and pushed out the other side. Far from the glamour and grandeur of Heathrow’s Terminal 5, it even makes Stansted look good. Anyway, the car hire man trusted the life of a very nice, shiny, new Skoda Fabia in my seemingly capable hands and we were off.
Everybody knows that a hire car is the best car you’ll find.
We knew exactly where we wanted to go, but had no road map. Preparation is everything! We drove to the local town, following an ‘information’ sign and Dan and Olie got out to find a map. Within 2 minutes of them closing the doors, I found a road map in Olie’s door. Just as well, because Dan and Olie soon arrived empty handed anyway.
So we set off for Tivedstorp, the same kind of area that we were in last year. After a couple of hours’ driving we needed to stop and take stock of exactly where we were and how far we had to go. Whilst this was still in discussion, I pulled the car into a small side road, flew into a car park and screamed to a halt right underneath a sign which read ‘Welcome to The Bergslagsleden’. One day my luck will run out. We weren’t where we wanted to be exactly, but only a couple of stages north. We were in Ramundeboda apparently. We were greeted by the first of many huge, beautiful lakes and just across the motorway we came off appeared to be an endless stretch of forest. Perfect.
The Bergslagsleden trail is one continuous route, but split into various stages. A to B, B to C, C to D. The start of each section has some sort of camp, or fresh water source, just something to keep you going. There are some circular routes mixed up amongst it and there’s nothing stopping you coming back on yourself anyway. So we decided that we would do one section in the southern end, where we were fairly familiar with and then spend the rest of the trip in the north sections.
We would do the stage that took us from Ramundeboda to Svarta Herrgard. A fairly straight forward, but nonetheless picturesque, 19km route. So we had a super quick change in the car park into our walking kit, donned our rucksacks, and were away, following the orange markers that keep you on the trail from beginning to end. Kind of like I was Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz with my three companions on our adventure down the yellow brick road.
In no time at all we were in the forest. It was fantastic to be back in the awesome silence and beauty of the Swedish wilderness. Not a person in sight. Not a sound to be heard. We reached a small hilltop that looked out upon miles and miles of pine forest, stretching into the horizon. All that was running through my head was the possibility of what might have been hiding in there, the animals, the rivers, and almost 100% of my dreams.
Parts of the forest had been maintained but the majority had been left to grow totally wild, huge boulders, ancient trees. Some of this area hasn’t been officially lived in by humans for thousands of years. With every step we were almost stepping back in time.
As the distance stretched on and energy began to fall, the group had begun to split slightly. Dan offered to walk with Jack if Olie and myself wanted to troop on ahead and find a camp at the end of the section. Of course, doing the honourable thing, and leading by the Musketeers fine example, we said ‘No! All for one and one for all!’ Actually…that didn’t happen. It was more like, ‘Sure, see you later!’ and off we went, skipping down our yellow brick road. Because splitting up in the Swedish wilderness is always a fantastic idea..
The idea was,of course, that as long as we stayed on the trail, followed the markers and just kept going, there was no doubt we would make it to camp and Dan and Jack would undoubtedly catch us up in no time. They’d arrive just as we had a fire going and a camp made before darkness fell. It just seemed to make sense.
No more than perhaps 2km along the trail we stumbled across a fairly fast flowing stream. Our final destination would almost be on the side of a lake, so we took this as a fairly good sign, whether or not it meant anything, we didn’t really know. We continued to climb a little hill and found a sign post informing us about a fresh spring that would provide clean drinking water. Suddenly ‘oh there it is!’ came from Olie. I looked around and couldn’t really see anything ‘the spring?’ I asked. I walked up a little further and saw it. Camp!
There it was. A shelter like the one we found last year, only timber framed. Three walls and a roof, but it was awesome. Alongside it was a huge log store, stacked with almost full length pine and birch trees. Just in front of the shelter was a huge stone fire pit and to top it off we had the natural spring to provide us with all the water we needed. Much sooner than we expected, Dan and Jack turned up and with a ‘this is brilliant,’ and threw their rucksacks to the ground. This was better than anything we were imagining, and a very welcome sight after an hours’ sleep and an almost 20km hike. We got the fire going and must have gotten through at least 3 trees worth of wood. We had dinner, sat around the fire and eventually fell asleep to the 2 most relaxing sounds in the world in my mind, the sound of the crackling fire and the flowing river beside us.
Day 2: ‘When in Rome’
07 Apr 2017
We woke up at about 10:00am. 12 hours of cold, broken, uncomfortable sleep was actually amazing! We made breakfast and packed fairly quickly as we still had to trek all the way back to the car then make the journey to Kloten, the northern end of the trail. Our plan had to be stuck to. We followed the route we took yesterday –
We – well, Jack – took a slightly different route. There were roads that weaved around the trail, cutting off a large section of it, so he followed that. We assumed it wouldn’t make any difference really and that we would quickly catch up. However we soon found him some way along the trail and he had actually been waiting for us for about 20 minutes. More fool us.
We made it back in good time. We only then decided to work out how far we walked. Something we probably should have figured out before we actually left yesterday. Anyway, we had walked about 25 km, a fair introduction to our Swedish adventure on The Bergslagsleden trail.
So we jumped in the car and headed for Kloten.. with an essential detour to Kopparberg on route.
Naturally, we needed to stop for supplies on the way, and Kopparberg was obviously the best place to that. It was just the most logical decision, after all, it was only about 20 minutes up the road from Kloten. Almost resembling the 1990’s TV show, Supermarket Sweep, we ran into the supermarket and basically grabbed anything that came into reaching distance. I went for a slightly more authentic taste; 1.5 litres of Kopparberg, a handful of weird sausage things, some reindeer jerky and a tonne of chocolate. Not quite camping food, but it seemed like a good decision. I then met Dan at the tills, who was holding some slightly more healthy and appropriate food. He looked at me with a ‘what the f**k?’ kind of glare, to which I just couldn’t help but think, ‘well…when in Rome, right?’
Back in the car and on the way to Kloten, we parked up next to a lake with a detailed map on a sign marking out some good shelters and camping spots. The hike from Kloten to Gillersklack was going to be a long stretch, so with the little time we had, we thought it was best to just find a nice spot to make camp not too far from the trail and return to it in the morning. We found a great spot on the map, with a shelter on a huge lake, tucked out of the way of anything else in the area, and headed straight for it.
It very quickly became obvious that we were in for a cold night as the lakes in the area were still partially frozen and there was snow on the ground. All part of the fun!
To get to our spot for the night we had to drive down a very small, dodgy track, completely grassed over with a few pointy rocks sticking out for good measure. Midway down this ‘road’ we had to send Olie out to shift a small tree that was blocking the way. With a few minor body work scratches and the undercarriage of the car probably completely ruined, we made it to the end of the road – a complete dead end with absolutely nothing in sight. Brilliant… I spotted something that could have resembled a structure of some sort and thought I’d have a quick look. As I approached it, it turned out to be not just one shelter but two. Sat right on the edge of a huge lake. The only sound that could be heard was the geese crash landing onto the water in the distance with the volume of a Boeing 747.
We quickly unloaded our kit and picked our sleeping spots. Dan and Olie threw their hammocks up, Olie’s almost hanging right over the water, Dan’s not so far away from camp and Jack and I took the shelters. More like Jack was banished to his own one for the sake of the group’s sanity. Dinner was made and during this process I decided it was time to pull out my sausage-
Behave. It was one sausages I bought in Kopparberg.
It was hard to tell if it was actually already cooked.. So I gave some to Olie to try. He thought it was fine, but after some examination, Dan, Jack and I thought it was definitely raw. There was something about the fresh butchers’ shop smell that really didn’t fill me with confidence. I cooked it just be sure, and now I’m waiting for Olie to be horrendously sick just to assure myself that it was a good idea to cook it. Then it was Dan’s turn. Dan’s turn to whip out his goodness –
Dan’s Flapjackmade it all the way to Sweden! If there is anything to fill the heart and stomach of a person with joy, it’s Dan’s Flapjack.
So we all settled around the fire, with our Wayfayrer meals, weird sausage and Dan’s Flapjack in perfect time to watch the sunset behind the forest on the opposite side of the lake.
It’s now 23:15pm and I’m in bed. Listening to the humbling sounds of the geese on the lake, calling their families in for bed, and Jack, snoring away in his shelter. In fact, it sounds like Dan has just started to try and compete with him. Olie turned his light out a little while ago and all I can see in his general direction is complete darkness in the trees.
Tomorrow we head back to the top of the trail in Kloten. I think we’ll spend the next couple of days on the track, it’s going to be a long hike. Possibly another 30km and, according to my map, it’s mostly uphill.
It’s cold now. The fire is out and my hand is turning a funky shade of blue. Definitely time for sleep.
That night, I made the foolish mistake of thinking that if I put my sleeping mat, sleeping bag and wool blanket inside my emergency bivvy bag, I would be toasty warm. Wrong. The top tip that I totally ignored was actually, if you plan on sleeping in it, you should cut one of the sealed corners off at the end, to allow some ventilation. Without the ventilation there was nowhere for the heat to go, so it condensed on the inside of the bag and I woke up very damp indeed.
Day 3: To The North End
08 April 2017
This morning started pretty badly, to say the least. However the result at the end of the day totally made up for it.
I slept great, although it was pretty damn cold. I was woken by the sound of the geese on the water and a woodpecker somewhere in the distance, but I stayed in my little bubble of bedding for a little while longer. I must have fallen asleep again because before I knew it, Dan woke me by stepping into my shelter. I immediately sat bolt upright and slammed my head into the sloping roof, nearly knocking myself unconscious. Dan told me that he had been watching a red squirrel playing in the tree above him, so he was going off to ‘find some more nature’. I was the only other one in the camp who was awake, so I set about making a fire to get some breakfast and brews on. No matter how hard I tried however, I just couldn’t get the fire going.
Something that’s usually very rare for me. If there is something I’m good at, it’s building a campfire.
My patience thinned and after a few careful attempts I decided to take the ‘f**k it’ approach. I found the biggest piece of birch bark I could get my hands on, stacked on some thin twigs and buried the whole lot in a couple of huge pine branches. Notoriously great for burning. I lit the birch bark at the bottom and watched as it caught the pine branches, causing a huge spiraling tower of smoke and fire. I stacked on some larger sticks, and away I had it. I grabbed the pot that we used to boil water and took to the lake to fill it up. On my return I built what I thought was a great structure over the fire with two long logs, laying across it with a small gap between them for the flames to come through. I placed the pot over the gap and it worked perfectly… for 5 minutes.
Looking at this structure now, I can see that it really isn’t stable at all!
Then something shifted, causing the logs to spread apart, subsequently tipping the pot all over the fire and extinguishing it. I probably woke Jack up with my screaming of all the profanities I could think of. So I started the whole process again. Fire made. Pot filled. Pot on top. Brilliant. Whilst the pot was doing it’s thing on the fire, I decided to chop some more wood. At which point I discovered how sharp Olie’s axe was-
Actually it was at the point when I slipped whilst splitting a bit of wood and the axe went into my thumb that I discovered how sharp it was.
Just as the water was boiling, the logs shifted again. The water came out. The fire went out. Fire built. Pot filled. Thumb bandaged. Water boiled. Dan walked back into camp and I think I said something like ‘Good morning Dan, I do hope you had a wonderful walk!’.. actually no…I’m actually certain it was more like ‘This better be the best f*****g coffee you’ve ever had.’
On a good note though, my sausage didn’t make Olie horribly sick at all. I still cooked another one for breakfast though. I just wasn’t willing to take that risk.
We got breakfast over and done with and left the camp with enough time to make it to Kloten and get on with the rest of our hike. Dan walked ahead of us as we drove down the track, moving more trees out of the way and about 20 minutes later we were in Kloten. The official start of The Bergslagsleden Trail. We pulled into a car parking area and began to unload our kit and pack up what we needed for our last night in the wilderness.
It was actually at this point that we discovered that you could drive a car with the keyless ignition start button without having the key anywhere near the car. Olie drove it down the road and I was stood, key in hand, in the car park. Really safe! Well done Skoda. Anyway-
As we started the trail we were greeted with the spectacular view of a beautiful frozen lake. We went down to the water’s edge to check it out, and it just felt strange looking at it whilst standing in the gorgeous blaring sun. Spring/Summer was definitely on it’s way here, but winter was still in for a fight. We immediately began the climb up the first of many, many hills. Straight into the heart of the wild pine forests of the Swedish Wilderness. The sudden feeling of being at home in this place was sensational. This is exactly where I wanted to be.
The map certainly didn’t lie when it showed that this section was uphill. It seemed to be continuously uphill for about 4 hours.
As we got even deeper into the wilderness and further away from civilisation, we stumbled across paths still covered with snow and even more beautiful frozen lakes. Picturesque just isn’t the word for these places.
Then, as we got even deeper into the woods, it was clear that we were in bear country too. Scattered along the trail was a fair amount of bear poo. What was unclear though was how fresh it was, it looked pretty fresh, but it was early morning and a bit boggy, so it might have been just wet anyway.
Kind of similar to a large cat poo, but you could see the berries etc that had been passed through. Interesting. A bit gross, but interesting.
Our final destination was to be one of two places. We saw on the map that there was a cabin, much like the one in Scotland which we stayed in a couple of years ago. It was apparently an old farm house, built into the side of the bottom of a hill. It had been refurbished and was open for use by anybody. It was next to a river and we thought this would be a pretty cool place to have our last night. If that didn’t work out though, we would trek just about 6km to another camping spot next to a lake.
Breath going, legs burning, feet about to explode, we reached the old farm house. Annoyingly however, it had been claimed by a family before we got there. So staying there was out of the question, but the short 6km trek no longer felt like just a short 6km trek.
We were actually so annoyed by this, we didn’t stop to take a picture of the house, but believe me, it was actually pretty cool. Here’s a picture of the river that ran down beside it though:
So with no choice, we continued our walk. In all fairness though, we couldn’t have been in a more beautiful place. Rolling hills, perfect silence, huge forests and lakes and the potential of being eaten by bears. To me, that’s perfect. To top it all off, I had heard that on this section you can often hear wolves howling in the distance too.
We didn’t know exactly what we were looking for, but we knew that if we just pressed on, we would find our next camping spot. It was apparently on a lake, just off the trail, so that was fine. Although, every time we climbed a huge mountainous hill, we would see a lake, have that ‘finally!’ feeling, then the trail would take us in the opposite direction up another gargantuan hill. Until finally, after the third time of saying ‘it’s just around this hill guys, don’t worry,’ it was there. We were about 100m away from it, but it was already so much better than that damn farm house.
Right on the water, so much so that if it was any closer, it would be in the water. Another one of these shelters. Looking right out over the frozen lake and with a large fire pit right in front of it. This was amazing. Totally silent. We whistled and the echoes coming back to us were just as loud and crystal clear. The sound of the small rocks that we tossed onto the ice even came back to us. This was easily the best place we had stayed over the last few nights. We arrived with a good few hours of daylight left. Enough time to get a fire going, make some dinner and just sit around camp and relax in the serenity of the most wild wilderness of Sweden. We built the fire up enough to heat the inside of the shelter, climbed inside our sleeping bags and just laid there, listening to the crackling fire and fell asleep as the sun was still setting.
I was next to Jack which meant that I didn’t sleep much at all that night. Leading to a lot of rolling around trying to get comfortable and trying to sleep, which then woke up Dan, who then woke up Olie with his complaining about me trying to get comfortable.
I have now completely given up trying to get to sleep, thanks to Jack, so just sat here looking out over the lake. It must be about 03:00am It’s really chilly again but totally amazing. It’s pitch black out there in the forest but the moonlight is shining down and reflecting off the ice in front of me. It’s just incredible.
Sometimes I think I should thank Jack for his outrageous snoring…but not just yet.
Day 4: Let’s Go Home
09 Apr 2017
I finally got back to sleep and woke up at about 06:00am. I was straight up and dressed and set about getting a fire lit. This morning we had to leave much earlier than we had done over the last couple of days as we needed to get back to Kloten in time to make the near 3 hour journey to Arlanda airport for 17:00 to return the car. It was going to be a hell of a walk back too.
I must have been the first creature to stir in the whole forest, because it was totally silent as I was collecting wood. But as I returned to the shelter, a fish jumped out of the bit of water that hadn’t frozen, the birds started singing and a woodpecker was trying to get the sound of Jack’s snoring out of his head in the forest somewhere.
We made breakfast, I cooked my last sausage and had a vegetable curry Wayfayrer meal. If you ask me, I think that was a fine breakfast. Soon we were on our way again. To try and cut some time off, we agreed that we would follow the trail until it hit the road, then follow that road all the way back. Cutting out a few of those hills, and guaranteeing a timely arrival at the car. So we did. We came off the trail and had about 6 miles left to walk, which isn’t too far at all. Unless you have a heavy rucksack on, dead feet and long straight road to follow. It was fun. To keep myself occupied I counted the little lines that marked the edge of the road. 2523 lines later, we came off the road and back on to the track along side the first frozen lake we came across coming out of Kloten. Not 10 minutes later were back in the car. That was it. Done. Feeling like we were going to die, every part of us aching, hips rubbed raw from our rucksacks and feet blistering, we felt amazing. This was the feeling we set out to find. We wanted to feel like we had done something, and we did.
And so our 50km walk in the woods was complete. The relief was incredible, but a great sadness fell upon us all as well. With the lust for being back in our shelter on the lake still strong, we were headed back to civilisation and the everyday monotony of society.
Our adventure was done.
It wasn’t until we got to the airport and got back on the WiFi (the latest addition to humanity’s hierarchy of needs), that the messages from friends and family started pouring in, enquiring as to whether we were safe. We couldn’t understand why until we had a look at the BBC News page and found out that there had been a devastating terror attack in Stockholm just a day after we had landed. It was this that reinforced the reason that we had set out to do what we wanted to do – while Stockholm and the rest of the world were experiencing yet another tragic disaster, we were blissfully ignorant and comfortably numb in the natural surroundings of such a beautiful country, able to enjoy everything it had to offer while its own citizens were forced to mourn and become fearful. It’s a sad fact that, in today’s world, we can’t escape such atrocities for too long, but if we choose to, we can take a step back, walk into the wild and be reminded of the awesome force of nature and all that came before us and what will eventually be left behind.
Until next time Sweden, stay wild, stay beautiful and see you later
How much is your life worth? How much money would you spend to preserve your life?
On 2nd January 2017, a couple from Leicestershire and their dog were rescued by Cairngorm Mountain Rescue after being caught in arctic-like conditions over night, simply because they miscalculated how long their chosen route would be. After leaving their house for a New Years Day walk, like most of us would have done, they soon got caught by terrible weather conditions that closed in on them rapidly. With knee high snow, visibility worsening and a dead head torch, they were forced to take cover using their Bivouac Sack (known to some as a bivvy bag). They weren’t discovered until midday the following afternoon, but they survived.
The Cairngorms (www.cairngorms.co.uk)
There are countless stories like this that have ended so much worse. Just last year The Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association reported just short of 20 deaths in their area alone. I would say that a large percentage of these deaths could have been avoidable. With the right experience and knowledge of what you’re doing, where you’re going and your own capabilities, you can feel secure that you are going to be fine. ‘I know my limits, I know what I can manage and I know what I’m doing,’ we’ve all said it. But what if something so unpredictable, such as the weather, just creeps in on you and leaves you with very limited options? If you’ve read my article on a trip to Snowdon I took in February 2015, you know what I’m talking about and you know that you can have as much experience and knowledge as possible, but what really counts in these situations, what really can save your life is what you put in your rucksack before you even walk out of the front door.
If you’ve suddenly just had an ‘oh crap, what do I need?’ moment, then don’t panic. Allow me to cover 10 essentials that you should really consider taking on your hike.
Water – the source of life
Waterproofs – even Michael Fish couldn’t predict the weather (BBC weatherman)
Navigation: compass and map, and the knowledge to use them! – Do any of us really know where we’re going?
Dry/warm clothes – when you get cold and wet
First aid kit – a fool can suffer
Food = energy = warmth
Shelter – The trust bivvy bag
Torch – ‘happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light’
Knife – the possibilities are endless
Fire lighting kit – fire = warm = happy (fire = warm = food = happy)
I live in Buckinghamshire, England. Home of the beautiful rolling Chiltern hills (and fabulous ales)- considerably different to the grandeur of the Peak District and not much like the Cairngorms either. However, if you were to find me in the woodlands when I am out and about with my dog and say ‘show me what’s in your sack,’ initially I’d think you’re a bit strange, but eventually you’d be enlightened to the wonders of all 10 of those items and more impressively how they all manage to fit inside my 20 litre rucksack, because everywhere I go, I take these essentials.
The Chilterns (www.visitchilterns.co.uk)
No matter what the weather or where I’m going, I will carry at least these 10 items, plus a few bits more. You can mix and match the rest of the kit to your own personal needs and desires, I know that at least one of my friends will have some Scotch in his rucksack for example. Not a great example, granted, but it shows that there is still room in your sack for those extra bits.
So far I have had very, very few occasions where I’d end up using every piece of kit, but there will be those occasions and when they arise, I’d be considerably more prepared than those who didn’t consider the possibilities.
Hypothetically, let’s just cover a quick scenario, a little role play perhaps. Perhaps not, but stay with me, you’re doing well.
Dave and Julio are out for a walk around the mountains, the nearest pub with a beautiful crackling log fire is 20 miles away and the last person they saw was the postman doing his morning rounds. It’s just gone midday and they have just finished their sandwiches sat on a dry stone wall looking over a stunning green valley with a sparkly lake in the middle, in the distance the sky appeared to be getting a bit grey and horrible, but they crack on. Dave suggests perhaps heading down the valley, cutting their ramble a little shorter because he has noticed the weather coming in, but Julio, being the renegade that he is, immediately disregards Dave’s suggestion and continues along the ridge. Dave joins in. Suddenly Julio slips, falls to the ground and bashes his head on a big rock. Dave laughs. Then Dave notices that Julio hasn’t laughed and appears to be in a spot of bother. Then it starts to rain. Dave explains to Julio that this is why he suggested leaving the mountain early, points at the sky and the rain and gets cross. Julio doesn’t care. He’s more concerned about the fact that his foot is pointing backwards and is really quite painful. Because Dave is sensible and prepared, he immediately is able to help to the best of his abilities. He calls for help, because there is phone signal, but they are only reachable by the friendly neighbourhood Mountain Rescue team, a few hours away. He proceeds to help Julio put his waterproof jacket on but because his foot hurts, getting the trousers on isn’t worth the moaning. What he does have is a bivvy bag though. A super fashionable bright orange weatherproof plastic sack (essentially). Dave isn’t a doctor, but he tries his best at securing Julio’s foot, with what is in his first aid kit, so it doesn’t wobble about, then helps Julio get into his bivvy bag. Hours of moaning from Julio go by and it gets dark. Thankfully, Dave brought his torch and a spare one just in case. By the time Mountain Rescue arrive, Dave has prepared a lovely cup of tea for the team on his gas stove and they all laugh about how ridiculous the whole situation is, and how lucky they are that Dave was sensible. Julio missed this part as he was being winched into a helicopter. Dave and Julio fell out and now do not talk, but they are both alive. Hypothetically.
Are you Dave or are you Julio?
I have obviously painted this in a fairly jovial way, however it’s a serious consideration we should all make when we get out on our trips. Are you prepared? Do you have the right kit to cover worst case scenario? You may never use it, but when you do, you’ll be glad you had it.
So how much is your life worth? How much would you spend to preserve your life?
Remember that couple with their dog on the Cairngorms? They spent £5 on a bivvy bag, and it saved their life.
In the 1970s Jackson Browne wrote a fairly beautiful song called ‘The Load Out’. Totally unrelated to the weather, outdoors and any of the seasons, but stay with me and I’ll come back to that. Maybe give it a listen while you read this though.
Autumn and Winter. The time of year that everybody turns the central heating on, stocks up logs for the fire and makes a ludicrous amount of soup. We all do it. So it’s time when people go into hibernation and spends less time out in the wild, but why? It’s cold, wet and muddy. So what?
I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing and preparation. Without boring you too much about a layering system, with a simple adjustment to your clothes, base layers to outer layers, you can enjoy the weather all year round. So what are you missing when you only go outside for those couple of weeks of sun in the great British summer? So much. Allow me to tell you why, personally, I think that this time of year from Autumn through Winter to Spring is the most beautiful, exciting and intriguing.
When you think of Autumn, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a natural carpet of orange, red and brown leaves, conkers dropping from the Chestnut Trees, pumpkins and maybe pies. I think of pies most of the year, but I feel like you can’t beat a really good pie when the cold weather comes in.
So Summer is over, the leaves are turning a spectacular array of colours like natures very own fireworks and the cold, dark and misty mornings have begun. I consider myself lucky with the drive I have to work every morning, other than the awful traffic. The road I take is almost entirely lined on both sides with trees. Oaks, Chestnuts, Birch and Elms, all exploding with colour and dropping their leaves, allowing the sun to burst through, casting it’s rays through the mist. Actually makes the traffic worth getting caught in.
If you’re anything like me, then you’ll know what I mean when I say I’m one of those people who really prefers the cold weather. There is nothing better than putting your boots on, a nice warm coat, scarf, hat and gloves and walking out into the forests when that year’s leaves are piled around your feet. The incredible silence being broken by the crunching of frosted foliage and the scurrying of squirrels making their last minute harvest for the Winter. All over the country animals are making their own preparations for the coming season, and being able to witness this is something very special. Whether it is that squirrel getting ready to spend his winter season in his den, or that year’s fox cubs leaving their family, preparing for adult life and searching for their mates to start a family of their own. However, everything is over shadowed by the majesty that is the Red Deer stag. A real stand out icon of the great British Autumn, their rutting season. All over the country these creatures great and small can be found if you take the time to sit quietly, still and observe.
As I have mentioned in some of my previous articles, to me the forest is a hive of life, activity and emotions. All over the internet there are videos of time-lapses in the forest covering the whole year. What you’ll see if you watch it, and even witness it by getting out there in every moment you have through the year, is one of the most spectacular stories. And it’s all for free. Spring is the magical introduction to the year, the buds begin to burst through on the trees, the green of the forest floor begins peeking out of the foliage from the previous year and those fox cubs take their first steps out of their den, preparing you for what to expect in the next chapter – Summer. The main event, life is at it’s fullest, the leaves spread out into an enormous canopy, the days are bright and warm. Barbeques, warm evenings and long walks for days that feel like months, only to slow and dim when the story comes to an end. Autumn. The leaves begin to change, life comes to an end, the animals return to their hides and homes and the days get shorter. Winter. The last leaves fall to the ground to be covered with frost and snow. The busy, loud bustling of Summer has suddenly fallen to a deathly silence as life appears to be at a stand still until the sun comes back and warms the ground, nurturing the forest back to life for Spring. Infancy, adolescence, adulthood, followed by the inevitable. Only to start again.
To be part of this story is a wonder in itself, to witness it every single year is something that should be cherished. Why would anybody want to miss that? Why would anybody consider hiding indoors at the most beautiful time of this life cycle? Put some extra layers and wellies on and get outside.
Everything has a beginning, middle and end. It varies in length, but everything does. A book, a movie, a three course dinner and a song. It builds from scratch, almost nothing, just an idea. This very article that you are reading started from just that, an idea, and don’t worry this article does have an ending too. Life is a wonderful thing to behold, and without getting too ‘preachy’ I believe that if you have that chance to watch something from the beginning of it’s life to the end, over and over, why wouldn’t you? Why would you only cherish those moments that feel nice and warm and decide to ignore the rest? The most beautiful things are just on the other side of your doors, windows and walls. Go and see it, study and love it.
Jackson Browne’s ‘The Load Out’ is dedicated to the road crew that follow the band around on tour, building the stage at the beginning of every show and always being the last to leave the theatre at the end, carrying out their jobs almost in auto pilot. Jackson mentions the noises he hears as the crew dismantle the stage and slams doors, but they are noises that only on lookers would notice. To the crew it’s just everyday labour and something they will never be disconnected from. In the show of forest that you can see every year, the leaves are the road crew, the first to arrive and bring life to the show and always the last to leave once the deafening crowd has vanished, the band, the main part of the show, have gone and the theatre is filled with an eerie silence, until that last leaf falls and the house lights go out, until the next show.